Michael Bunce OBE 1935-2014

Michael Bunce OBE 1935-2014

By Steve Clarke,
Wednesday, 11th February 2015
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Obituary of the RTS' first full time director (1935-2014) by Steve Clarke

Michael Bunce, who has died of a heart attack, aged 79, was the Royal Television Society’s first full-time director.

He died unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve, following the death of his wife, Tina, two weeks earlier from cancer.

Michael joined the RTS as Executive Director in 1991. His nine years running the RTS were marked by a wide-ranging expansion in its activities and the modernisation of the Society’s role.

The initiatives undertaken on his watch included the introduction of RTS Masterclasses, the RTS Television Sports Awards, the RTS Craft & Design Awards and the RTS Hall of Fame, plus an increase in the number of RTS Dinners and workshops.

Known for his unflappable and urbane style, Michael played a key role in enlisting the Prince of Wales as the Society’s Royal Patron.

Crucially, he led negotiations on behalf of the RTS that led to the Society becoming a partner in IBC (International Broadcasting Convention).

His passion and enthusiasm for the RTS and all things television were obvious to all who knew him.

Michael was a popular leader of the RTS and was devoted to his loyal staff.

Paul Jackson, who chaired the RTS during Michael’s tenure at the Society, said: “Michael was one of the best lunch companions you could have. But underneath the bonhomie was a very astute political operator.

“On several occasions he stopped me from making a fool of myself – and a number of other people, too.”

He added: “Being in charge of the RTS requires very special skills. You have to keep a lot of egos and conflicting commercial interests in check.

“Michael always kept things running very smoothly. There were never any rows.

Michael was a consummate politician who never dropped the ball

“The RTS may be a small organisation, but it is a very prestigious one. Michael was a consummate politician who never dropped the ball.”

Prior to his work at the RTS, Michael enjoyed a long and distinguished career at the BBC, much of it spent in television current affairs.

He was educated at St Paul’s School, London, and Kingston College. He joined the BBC in 1960 as an engineer, following National Service in the RAF.

Initially, Michael worked in radio as a studio manager and tape editor. Success came quickly. A programme he worked on, European Enquiry, Six Nations in Search of Their History, won the Prix Italia for radio documentary in 1961.

Michael’s first job as producer was on the World Service’s People and Politics.

He went on to edit The Money Programme and Nationwide. It was Michael who developed Nationwide into one of the iconic TV shows of the 1970s.

In 1975, Michael was promoted to Chief Assistant, Television Current Affairs. Three years later, he became Head of Information Services, Television.

He was appointed the BBC’s Controller of Information Services in 1982. In this position, he handled the BBC’s PR machine with a legendary deftness.

Not even Margaret Thatcher’s well-known hostility towards the BBC could knock the sure-footed executive off course.

Crisis management appeared to be second nature to Michael. In 1987, it was his job to deal with the sudden and brutal sacking of Director-General Alasdair Milne by the new BBC Chairman Duke Hussey. He took it all in his stride.

His people skills and ability at handling powerful TV executives and politicians held him at good stead when he became Executive Director of the RTS.

At the Society, he presided over a rich and varied programme of events and educational initiatives for members and the wider public.

On stepping down from the RTS in 2000, Michael was appointed Chair of IBC. He listed his recreations in Who’s Who as gardening, visiting fine buildings and fishing.

Michael was appointed OBE for services to broadcasting in 2001. He is survived by his son, Charlie, and daughters, Miranda and Bella.

Steve Clarke